Tuesday, February 12, 2013

P2P and Fan Fiction

P2P: Pulled To Publish 

Okay, first of all, I'm not opposed to fan fiction. I love it. I've read some fantastic stuff online, and I have no problems whatsoever with people who write it or read it. I even wrote some, back in the day. I didn't put it online, but I think it's great that people do. And if it was left online, that would be fine. 

Where it gets murky for me, is when that fiction is picked up by an agent or publisher, and pulled to publish. I have no problem with writers of fanfiction being discovered this way. But what I do think should happen is an agent or publisher should be able to say, "That's fabulous. Now show me something original."  

Fifty Shades of Grey is probably the most famous example. It started as very NSFW Twilight fanfic. I never read it, because I was never a Twilight fan. And while there were occasions I wanted to slap Bella around as well, let's just say that she wouldn't have enjoyed it so much.

(There is an awful lot of NSFW stuff in fanfic...

...but that might be a topic for another day.)

So what happens when something is pulled to publish? Well, obviously if you intend to ask for payment for your former fanfic, then you're in serious danger of breaching someone else's copyright. So you change the names, and change the details, and maybe change pretty much everything, but is that enough? 

Legally, maybe. Ethically, I don't think so. 

Because you built your story in someone else's world. You took someone else's intellectual property, your altered it, and you sold it. And I think that's wrong. 

Cassandra Clare is a very successful writer who has been accused of copyright infringement. And yeah, there appears to be some evidence of it back in her fanfic days. Bad form, sure, but this is fanfic on the internet. Nobody particularly cares, and why should they? Nobody was making any money from it, and I presume that the suspect passages were removed long before the books were published as The Mortal Instruments series. What bothers me the most is that what remains, however disguised, was built from someone else's world. In this case, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. And that's where I have an issue with the ethics of P2P. 

If you want to write for profit, then create your own characters and build your own words. Don't be a cheap knock-off of an original. There is a very, very thin line between a homage and a copy. It's as thin as the line between legal and ethical, I suppose. 

If you want to write for pleasure, then go nuts. I've got this great idea where Harry and Draco get trapped in a dragon's cave and Sam and Dean from Supernatural have to rescue them... but I'd never expect you to pay for it. 

Where does everyone else stand on P2P? 


  1. Well, as a legal issue there's no question. It has to resemble the source material significantly enough as published to count in a court of law. If it's been changed enough then it's not infringement.

    As a moral issue, I agree with Michael Chabon:

    "There is a degree to which…all literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction. Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us…we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers—should we be lucky enough to find any—some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss."

    1. I do agree that everything is derivative of something, but P2P still leaves me feeling uneasy, simply because if it was fan fiction to begin with, at what point does it stop becoming fan fiction and start becoming its own work?

  2. Does this mean I can't publish my three-volume romantic sci-fi epic, Han Solo and the Hobbit He Loved?

    But really, I agree. Sometimes it works, as when the writers of "The Matrix" basically took Neuromancer and combined it with the beginning of Ender's Game, but that's just all the more reason to give them credit, if not royalties.

    Also, as Chabon said, it's hard to get away from influences. We write what we love, and that's often what we read. But yeah, take a new angle on it. Give us something that's uniquely yours.

    1. You epic tome of love, space battles and second breakfasts will do fantastically on the internet, and I can't wait to read it! :)

      I think the key is "influences". I'm reminded of that old quote about stealing from one being plagiarism, and stealing from many being research.



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